[ISN] Top-Secret Agency Breaks 'Silence'

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sat May 26 2001 - 04:26:59 PDT

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    Associated Press Writer 
    May 16, 2001 
    FORT MEADE, Md. (AP)  Once, the National Security Agency insignia, a
    bald eagle perched on a skeleton key, surveyed a barren terrain of
    top-secret letterhead, its forbidding stare known only to a privileged
    Now, it spreads its wings over teddy bears, tie-dye shirts and
    nail-trimmers sold to tourists, part of an effort to let Americans get
    a glimpse of what the nation's premier eavesdropping agency does.
    Competing with a dozen other agencies for intelligence dollars, the
    largest and most secretive of them wants to spread the word about
    itself _ without revealing too much.
    Most of its work _ absorbing intelligence gathered from spy-plane
    flights like those near China, for example _ is still plenty
    But its openness around the edges is a departure for the 49-year-old
    organization jokingly called "No Such Agency" and perhaps best known
    for efforts not to be known at all.
    "It's changed all right," said author James Bamford. Twenty years ago
    he faced threats of prosecution for publishing NSA-related documents;
    recently he faced a crowd of agents at his book launch on the NSA
    "Instead of putting me in jail," he said, "they're throwing me a book
    The NSA's director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, accelerated the change
    after his 1999 appointment, perhaps most dramatically by making public
    two lacerating reports on agency deficiencies.
    "There are some things that we can say, that we ought to say," he
    commented in an unusual interview with the History Channel.
    The end of the Cold War led some to question the need for a national
    eavesdropper and subjected intelligence budgets generally to a harder
    "Like everyone else in the intelligence community, the NSA is being
    forced to reveal more than it wants to about itself," said Norman
    Polmar, who wrote "Spy Plane: The U2 History," an NSA-related exploit
    gone wrong.
    The internal NSA reports released by Hayden said that "ineffective
    leadership" and "our insular, somewhat arrogant culture and position"
    had led Congress to cut money to the agency, which gets the largest
    share of the $30 billion intelligence budget.
    Openness only goes so far. A European Union team angrily left the
    United States last week when NSA and CIA officials refused to meet
    with its members. The team is investigating whether the United States
    engages in economic espionage.
    NSA agents were once what snoops called "top secret famous" _ nameless
    shadows celebrated only among the select few in the intelligence
    Their coups were legion: Agency eavesdropping allowed President
    Kennedy to learn Soviet bluff lines during the Cuban missile crisis,
    and the NSA's Berber linguists linked Libyan agents to the 1986
    bombing of a German discotheque that killed a U.S. soldier.
    But in recent years, the progenitor of information technology in the
    1950s has been lagging behind Silicon Valley.
    In January 2000, the NSA's overtasked computers shut down for three
    Hayden slashed staff _ the agency now has 38,000 _ and hired outside
    contractors. Last year, Congress increased intelligence funding by 7
    To be sure, sleight-of-hand tics persist at the NSA. Gift shop
    purchases appear on credit card statements credited to a mysterious
    Civilian Welfare Fund.
    The NSA museum, vaunted as the hallmark of its new openness,
    concentrates on World War II codebreaking.
    "It's an outstanding tool in helping people understand what the NSA is
    about without getting into some of the problematic issues," said
    agency historian Patrick Weadon.
    "It's too much about war," complained Sandro Dallaturca, a Belgian
    banking encryptologist who had been looking forward to learning about
    encoding techniques.
    Missy Spiegl, 15, whose father works for the NSA, thought the museum
    might give her some family insights.
    "I've been trying for years to get out of my dad what he does, but I
    can't," she said.
    Inside the agency, change has been palpable.
    The NSA has farmed out some research, allowed an ex-agent to publish
    an account of how he redesigned an internal communications system and
    cooperated on Bamford's book, a largely sympathetic history of the
    agency by an author who favors more spending on intelligence
    That may have been an astute move on the NSA director's part, Polmar
    said. "Honey catches more than a fly swatter."
    Spreading suburbs have brought neighbors close to the agency's
    long-isolated campus. After a few mishaps _ including a SWAT-team
    swoop on a real estate photographer _ the NSA reached out to the
    "They are the hidden powerhouse of the county," said Janet Owens, Anne
    Arundel County leader. She's thrilled the NSA recently enticed General
    Dynamics to build a local plant.
    Staffers once forbidden to say where they worked now lead one of the
    nation's largest blood drives. NSA firemen train local volunteers in
    how to contain a chemical attack.
    There's the after-school tutoring: Linguists monitor drug traffickers
    by day and teach Spanish by night; code-cracking mathematicians walk
    teens through logarithms.
    And there's a 4-year-old park commemorating the 152 people who have
    died in service to the agency and country.
    "I am military intelligence and I am always out front ... always,"
    reads the plaque.
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